Tag Archives: David Drake


Those of you know have been keeping score at home know that I moved this summer into a new place. The old house was 1800 sqft with a three car garage.  The new gig is just under 1100 sqft, with no garage, but a couple of outbuildings and a little over six acres of trees, ponds, and quiet.

I have spent the better part of several weekends unpacking boxes that I put away over a year ago, left first in a storage unit, and then a barn. As a result, I have had to assemble old bookcases, find the shelves, rearrange them several times, and then finally stack them with books.

It’s interesting, what changes you can go through over a year. Or, in my case, something like ten years.

It was a decade ago that my first wife was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and given six months to live. She wasn’t done yet, so she got another three years out instead. I still miss her every day.

One of the things she required (REQUIRED, mind you) was that I not turn into a shut-in when she was gone. That I would start dating again after she was gone, and be happy. (She left me several pages of lists of things I was to do, afterwards. I have now, finally, checked off the last item.)

So I met the woman who would become Fabulous Publisher Babe ™ around seven years ago. We dated for around six months, but it didn’t work out at the time. I went off and had other adventures along the way.

A little over two years ago, she appeared in my life again in a strange way (you gotta buy me cider, mead, or wine to hear that story). It worked out this time, and we got married a little under two months ago.

Along the way, I had to re-invent myself into someone completely new. People that knew me ten years ago might recognize the shell, but not the innards. My friend Dusty can attest to that, and he’s in the best position there.

So today, Labor Day Weekend in the US, I’m looking at the strange year I have had, and two years, and three, and five, and seven, and ten. And I’m arranging books on shelves, trying to sort out what should go where.

Between then and now, I’ve probably gotten rid of around 3,000 books. Mostly paperbacks, but still. I figure it comes down to roughly 3-4 cubic meters of books. And around a standard ton of paper.

When I decided it was time to move, I was ruthless, kinda. If I hadn’t read it in six years, and it wasn’t being retained for a very specific reason, it went. My office suddenly became navigable, which is saying something.

As I unpack, I’m culling more, simply because I really have become someone else, someone who doesn’t need so much stuff. It’s very weird.

Which brings me, long ways around a shaggy-dog, to inspiration. Thanks for staying with me thus far.

A number of readers have compared Jessica Keller to Honor Harrington. I feel honored, because that’s one hell of a nice comparison. But it’s not really accurate. I’ve read the first few books in the series, but they just never reached out and grabbed me. Haven’t read any of them past about the third one, not even sure how many there are.

When I set out to commit science fiction, my inspirations come from a different set of sources. I own everything Doc Smith ever wrote, including things he inspired, but someone else wrote, like all four Tedric books, written by Gordon Eklund from something Doc wrote, or the D’Alembert books (the original set) with Goldin. Everything, including a mystery title called Have Trenchcoat, Will Travel.

At the same time, I have read almost everything David Drake has ever published, but I have generally only kept the SF stuff and let the fantasy go. (He writes good fantasy, but it doesn’t inspire me as much as his SF.) And that’s generally in hardcover, so Drake takes up an entire shelf with hardbacks and another with paperbacks. I’ve probably recycled two more shelves of stuff.

(Pardon me, I keep having to wander back to my bedroom and examine what’s still on the shelf. I just got back from another run to Half Price Books to deposit more stuff for future generations of me to find.)

The only other significant writers in that bookcase now are CS Friedman (almost all of her stuff, regardless of genre, except a couple of recent, “modern” pieces), Michael Moorcock (the original 15-volume Eternal Champion hardbacks I picked up 20+ years ago), and Glen Cook (Books of the North and all 4, so far, Instrumentalities of the Night.) On a different shelf, in the hallway, I have all twenty Aubrey/Maturin books.

So, inspiration.

Patrick O’Brian inspired Drake to write the Leary/Mundy books. I love those. Re-read them when a new one comes out, so I have it all fresh. Drake writes realistic characters responding in human ways to extraordinary circumstances. Not many writers focus on that sort of thing, at least not while telling big stories. That’s why I rank him first.

Doc Smith just told humungous space opera. He invented the very genre, as far as anyone else working was concerned. A million battle fleets converging on a single planet and trying to blow it up. Grand Moff Tarkin was the next person to think on that scale. And Doc was on the bleeding edge of tech.  Re-read the second on the command ship describing “the Tank” and tell me that’s not a standing 3D Laser hologram, before any of those words had been invented.

Glen Cook, when he’s on, tells cracking good stories that bring a ground trooper’s point of view to grand epic fantasy. And if you asked me to rate my top five favorite single books, The Dragon Never Sleeps makes that list.

Michael Moorcock pretty much invented his own sandboxes to play in. Epic blending of fantasy magic and technology, along a strange spectrum that works.  If it’s a little too pot-boiler/deus-ex-machina in places, he handles it well.

CS Friedman, when she’s on, constructs fantastically rich worlds into which a variety of characters can romp. In Conquest Born makes my top five list as well. But Coldfire is close behind, as is The Madness Season.

So my inspiration is drawn from writers who told big stories, but always tried to keep the human element. Tolkien bores me because he wanders all over the place, down irrelevant dead-ends, and several of the big characters are gods masquerading as mortals in order to play their silly games with each other. The price of immortality is boredom, not evil. Don’t let Gandalf fool you.

I was inspired by some really amazing writers, telling stories that take place in a technological future where we’re still human. Where we could have a conversation over a beer or cup of coffee, separated by technology, not humanity.

My second inspiration is to tell stories about a future where mankind has spread to the stars, and not just white people from North American and Western Europe. China and India collectively represent forty percent of humans. They are poor today, but that’s a modern invention. India and China have both been the center of human civilization at one time or another. It is likely that they will be, again.

And I don’t mean modernists. China as outsiders see it is not the China that would take to the stars. I imagine that they would be more like those sailors and pirates of the 18th and 19th Centuries. Or the grand explorers of the 14th and 15th.

India is no more India than Europe is Europe. Both are collections of interesting peoples with their own languages, their own cultures, and their own dreams, working fitfully to find their own place in the sun. A thousand years in the future, I expect both will still be recognizable as such, assuming we make it off world.

And that brings me back to inspiration. David Drake makes no bones about basing many of his stories (however loosely) on historical events and adventurers. He mines all of history for how people hundreds or thousands of years ago got into a mess, fought their way through, and came out the other side. All the stupid friction that occurs makes it into the stories as well.

As you know, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The first thing the enemy does is f#%! it up. In Drake’s stories, plans go astray. And people react and respond.

This is on my mind because I just finished reviewing the final battle sequence of Last of the Immortals before I send it off to First Readers. Emmerich has a plan. Jessica has a plan. Both fail, but it is how they fail, and how both recover, that makes the final battle interesting.

It will be everything I expect readers of Auberon and Queen to be clamoring for, and none of it. It will be a final battle, but not THE final battle. Futures will hinge on it, but nothing grand appears to come of this battle, except for the men and women who pay the ultimate sacrifice.

I realized along the way that I don’t write epic fantasy, but I do (occasionally) write epic SF. I have (at least) nine Jessica novels planned. I’ll probably start organizing for #4 early next year, and start the series forward from there.

Between then and now, another Javier, another Brak (short) piece, and then I don’t know. I will let the Goddess of Music dictate for me when we reach that point.

I hope all that makes sense. I realize I’ve just written a way-longer blog than normal, but I had something to say and it took more paper than I planned. Hopefully, it made sense. Or will, after you go check out the names on your own bookshelf.


Shade and sweet water,


What about the reader

I talk a lot to writers. I’ve been a storyteller for as long as I can remember, but I’ve only really turned myself into a writer over the course of the last year and a half. At first, I was writing pure fantasy because I’ve been into fantasy (and other) rpg’s since grade school (yeah, a while ago).

After two collections of fantasy (Beyond The Mirror 1 & 2), I turned to write some SF. The inspiration for me was the story Greater Than The Gods Intended, which starts out as pure high fantasy and suckers you in quite a ways before you realize it is really hard SF. (And I do mean hard.  All the science is there right now, fully explainable and defensible.)

You’ve heard me kvetch in other places about not being able to find the sorts of fiction I want to read, leading/forcing me to go out and write it. I’ve heard other writers say the same things. In many ways, that is the impetus to become an actual writer instead of just playing.

But what about the reader? What do they want?

Manhattan Publishing (what I call TradPub because it represents the last five major publishers after they ate each other starting around 1990) is busy churning out a slew of new books every year, throwing things at a wall like wet spaghetti to see what sticks. When it does, everyone goes all in, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery meets the cut-throat nature of a very expensive industry.

Thus, two decades ago, young wizards in modern urban fantasy became huge “overnight” after JK changed the world of reading by making stories that grown-ups enjoyed as well. After that, stories about vampires (and all the rest of the previously-“bad” monsters of literature) took over for a stretch. Distopian/Post-Apocalyptic took off after Suzanne’s excellent look at one possible future. And those were just the biggest of the big.

If you come down a notch, Young Adult (YA) urban fantasy or science fiction has never been far from the top. Wander the aisles of your favorite book dealer (new or used) and gander at all the young girls in mid-riff-baring tops, either with a sword in one hand, or and beginnings of a hex, in some dark urban alleyway (presumably New York-ish). Or the dude in the cowboy hat doing the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it is absolutely awesome that so many people are reading these days. Even if you don’t read my stuff, every person who reads keeps a book store in business. Or talks books with a friend (who may like me, or maybe they find something in a used book store that looks enticing, with my name on it).

What I’m interested in is how the reader approaches their to-read list. (I won’t ever “write to market,” that is, identify what is hot right now and right something specifically geared to sell on that wave. Creative muse doesn’t work that way, anyway.)

Scienticians have identified three general archetypes of The Reader(tm)

The first group is the “Social” reader. This is the person that picks up maybe one book per year, because that is THE book to be reading. This is the person who read the first Fifty Shades book last year, because everyone was reading it and they either wanted to see what the hype was, or, more likely, wanted to be seen reading the latest hip, trendy fashion.

TradPub makes almost all of their money from the Social reader. They may only buy one book, but that group is usually millions of readers. This is the sort of thing that makes a novel enter the cultural zeitgeist.

The second group is the “Casual” reader. This person reads a dozen or two books per year, generally safely within a few particular genre, say, mystery, or SF, or fantasy, and doesn’t necessarily branch out much, unless they get a recommendation from a friend, or find an author has crossed over.

I don’t read a lot of fantasy any more, because I find it frequently formulaic and derivative. But a while back David Drake did his Isles series, so I had to read it all. Mostly enjoyed it, but I prefer his SF. For other readers it is the same way. They might dabble, but they come home eventually.

The third group is the “Voracious” reader. I live for this kind of person. When they find a new author they like, they quickly sit down and read everything that author has published. Woe unto you if you have only a small bakery of selections when they come in the door, instead of  muffins, and donuts, and coffee, and whiskey. I can tell when someone like that hits my back list, because I’ll sell some of the more obscure titles out of the blue. In a week, I’ll see one of everything go. (To date, I have never actually hit a true Otaku-grade collector, because I have one title that has never sold a single copy individually, only as part of one of the Beyond The Mirror collections.)

If you’ve read this far, I’m interested in what kind of reader you are. How many books do you read in a month, or year? What genre lights your fires? How did you come to know me or my works? (As I wind down the first Jessica Keller trilogy, what would you like to see more of?)

I enjoy hearing from the people in range of my voice. PLEASE feel free to drop me a note at blaze at blaze ward dot com and let me know. Who knows, as I’m listening for the next muse in the fall, your voice might be the one that tips me over towards one of about a dozen possible projects turning to gumbo in my writer-brain.

shade and sweet water,


Are we alone?

So when you first set your butt in the chair and decide to write Science Fiction ™, this is one of the first questions you have to ask yourself. Are we alone?

In Fantasy, in almost all flavors, the answer is “duh, no.” because you have elves, and dragons, and unicorns, and lycanthropes, and vampires everywhere, even in Urban (modern) Fantasy. In horror, the bad guy is almost always something other than human.

But in Science Fiction, when you get out into space, you have to ask: Is there anyone out there to talk to? If there are no other intelligent species to encounter, why not? Are we unique? Or have the others come and gone and left no trace? (Jack McDevitt does an awesome job, by the way, exploring this topic with his Hutch novels.)

Or perhaps they have not made it up the technology ladder (yet) and are still at some “primitive” level. Thus, the Prime Directive.

But as humans work their way into space, you as the author have to decide what they find out there. If there are other people in space, why have we not encountered them yet?  Perhaps they have their own  Prime Directive that keeps them from letting us know until we’re ready? Thus, the Fermi Paradox.

A theory I share with a buddy of mine got incorporated into the universe of The Collective, containing The Shipwrecked Mermaid and Imposters (so far). They are out there, but consider mankind to be dangerous homicidal lunatics best kept isolated until their either destroy themselves or grow up, if the latter is possible. We are watched. Aliens walk (and swim) among us, but they keep a very low profile and keep everything as secret as possible. Both of the Rick Pine stories that I have written so far explore what happens to that theory when something goes terribly wrong.

At the other end of the spectrum, every day scientists find new theories of how strangely unique our homeworld planet it, compared to other systems we can study, which lends itself to the theory that organized life capable of technology is likely to be fairly rare. Recently, scientists noticed how many really big planets were extremely close to their parent star. Say, Jupiter at Mercury’s orbit. No smaller planets would survive a system like that, unless they ended up as moons of a brown dwarf like Jupiter. Their current theory is that Jupiter swept in at some point and smashed up all the (smaller) big worlds in close, leaving behind just a little rocky mass from which to form four small planets and the asteroid belt.

Similarly, we have a moon that is huge in comparison to the Earth (Charon and Pluto come to mind for a comparison). Etc. Etc. Etc.

So maybe we’re alone in space. Or there are only a few other places where the conditions will be ripe for a technological civilization to occur. And of those, only a few will manage to make it safely off of one planet before disease, bad luck, or atomic weaponry end them as a civilization and possibly as a species.

This is the basis for the Alexandria Station universe. (Science Officer, Mind Field, Librarian, Greater Than The Gods Intended, Auberon, Queen Of The Pirates, etc.) There is nobody else out there.

Eleven thousand years of exploring and humans have found no trace of others. Which is not so say nobody has ever come along. David Drake is an absolute master of throwing in something obviously older than mankind, tucked away in some place where his characters find it, but can’t really explore it, and then never quite remember to come back for it later. (I love finding those Easter eggs in his books.)

We’re only a little over 100,000 years old as a distinct species. On a rock 4,500,000,000 years old in a backwater corner of the galaxy. Maybe we just missed out on someone, only a million years ago, before they came and went. Life has been around on this planet for a very long time, what would it have been like then, if someone else had evolved into the apex species other than humanity?

Perhaps those aliens left us a message out there, as McDevitt likes to explore. Or a building. Or, possibly, the great evil weapon/tool/technology thingee that eventually destroyed them. Think of Fred Saberhagen’s Berserkers, for one example.

That’s what I love about Science Fiction. I can think big thoughts, and then wrap whole story worlds around them. I have Alexandria Station. I have The Collective. I have at least two other universes I want to play in, with their own sets of rules and aliens. (I just need copious amounts of spare time with which to write. Day jobs suck, bubba.)

Because nobody knows. I can’t be wrong. I just have to have an entertaining story in an interesting place. And I get to play. Because only I get to know the truth.